In the slips you are always in the game.
Catch the nicks that come and the bowlers will love you forever. Put even the hardest chance down and be prepared for long stares from everyone in the side: There is no hiding place and no respite.
Even when nothing has come to you all day.
As the slip position covers a wide area there are several ways to lay out the slip cordon:
- One slip: A single slip is common with spinners or seamers who are moving to a more defensive field but are still hoping for an edge. Seamers who tend to move the ball in towards the batsman and have close catchers on the leg side have just one slip even in attack.
- Two slips: This is a very common configuration in club cricket early in the game where wickets are needed and so a wider area needs to be covered for the catch. It's often combined with a gully fielder.
- Three slips: Quicker bowlers, or medium pacers on the attack can add an extra slip if there is enough carry. Gully is better employed at third slip in many cases.
Of course you can have no slips in defence or more than three slips, although the latter is rare enough that you probaly will not see it in your games. So you don't need much practice beyond third.
Where to stand at slip
When it comes to deciding where to stand in the slips, some basics are:
- Take your cue from the wicket-keeper. First slip stands a little way back from the keeper, second slip will be roughly level
- Stand arms length away from the 'keeper or other slips.
- In general stand a bit too close rather than a bit too far away. It's better to learn to react fast to an edged drive than to see a defensive edge drop short.
- On very slow and low pitches you may find that the slips have to come closer than orthodox to make sure edges carry. Here you may see second slip in front of the keeper and first slip almost level.
In modern times, wider, or staggered, slips have been used to try and cover a wider area.
Here the fielder stands wider than the orthodox position to try and cover more area. For example, if you have an athletic keeper who can dive in front of slip to take catches, the slip can move wider. The risk here is that the ball will be edged between the slips so your fielding needs to be even better.
Perhaps the most important part of slip fielding is your ability to stay focused.
You may field for 50 or more overs with nothing coming to you then on the last ball of the day you get a difficult chance. You need to have to concentration to be focused on every ball.
It would be impossible to stay laser-focused the entire day, so the secret is to concentrate hard as the bowler is about to bowl the ball, stay alert until the ball is dead then relax between balls. The good thing about slip fielding is there is always someone to chat to between balls. The less this chat is about cricket, the better you concentrate when you have to switch back on.
There is some debate about what you focus on in the slips. The standard advice is to watch the ball if you are fielding at first and watch the edge of the bat if you are fielding wider. This is not hard and fast rule though, so experiment with both in practice to see what is most comfortable for you and gives you the best reaction time.
Ways to practice
Slip fielding is crucial to a team's success so a good coach will pick out the fielders most likely to be slips and make sure they are getting the right practice.
You can do this with a series of fielding drills designed to replicate slip catching like this one and this one.
In an ideal world you will do some kind of catching drill every day. More realistically, every practice session needs the potential slips to go away on their own for a few minutes and focus on getting catching right. Make the practice as realistic as possible. It's good to practice catching when tired or under a game situation with an outcome (best catcher wins a prize for example).
Slip catching is specialist because such long periods can go by without a slip being required but every chance that arrives is golden. Practice it until your hands hurt and it becomes second nature.
This is part of the specialist fielding series of articles, for the full list of fielding positions covered click here.
image credit: Sarah Canterbury